We’ve been sleeping with the windows open for the last few weeks. It was about a month and a half ago that we moved into a new house, into our house. I’m nearly done renovating a basement room that is soon to become the room I’ve always wanted for my tying desk, my gear, and the art that needs a proper place to hang. At night, while we lay in bed, I can hear the wind in the leaves and the quiet murmur of the small creek that runs through the back yard. The last few mornings, though, I’ve woken with a new chill. It isn’t cold, but it is fresh. It’s that start of fall that feels just like the first breaths of a new spring.
For me, fall is the true New Year; this is when everything begins. We will fish streamers on the tailwaters and catch a few big browns, and the brook trout will start to take on the colors of a Caravaggio still life. And just as the leaves begin to mirror the brookies, I’ll set a new course. Instead of the valleys that hold the beautifully-colored fish on which our attention is normally focused, I’ll begin to haunt the hills and slopes that look down upon them.
On October 17th, North Carolina’s grouse season will open. It will run until the end of February, and for four-and-a-half glorious months, my two man team, my dog and me, will wander in search of birds. When I first started grouse hunting, I worked under the impression that the birds were the central aim of each endeavor. My dog was young and my skills were lacking. The success of my trips was measured in numbers, and I thought Tucker, my bird dog, understood that the job was to find birds for me. I suppose he still thinks that, but my perspective has certainly changed.
Tucker just turned six, and he is in his prime. If he never gets any better at his job than he is right now, I’ll be just fine with that. He’d most likely be bringing up the rear in any field trial competition, and you won’t see me at the top of the score sheets of any sporting clays tournament, but we’ve become the team that I had hoped for.
What has changed is the way I approach the whole endeavor. Tucker finds the birds for me, but I knock them down for him. Strangely, I think the dog work is enough for me. I could go a whole year without taking a bird and not lose any sleep except for the fact that Tucker deserves better than that. He’s earned it.
The rain has just started falling tonight, swelling the creek behind my house and fattening up the rose hips and bittersweet that the grouse need before the heavy frosts set in. Soon, we’ll take to the woods. We’ll take a few birds, I’ll miss a few more, and we’ll start the countdown until the end of February. These months are what I wait for all year. These months, that dog, and cold mornings in the western NC mountains. That’ll do.
Barring love, I’ll take my life in large doses alone – rivers, forests, fish, grouse, mountains. Dogs.
– Jim Harrison